Discussion About the Military During National Day
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I woke up early in the morning yesterday. It was the Austrian National Day, their of celebration of independence. It is a special day in the history of Austria, which takes all Austrians and their friends back to 1955. In May 1955, Austria signed the Austrian State Treaty to end foreign occupation which was settled in Austria after the Second World War. Austria was occupied by the four allied forces, the Soviet Union, United States, Great Britain and France, and was divided accordingly into four zones. The biggest zone was under the Russians, and Vienna (which was at that time the first occupation district) was an open area which the four occupying powers shared.
On October 26 1955, Austria declared the “permanent neutrality” and the last Soviet soldier left the country. The constitution of Austria, commits Austria to not take part in any military alliances and to disallow the establishment of any foreign military bases on Austrian territories.
October 26 also is the 50th anniversary of the participation of Austrian armed forces in international peacekeeping operations around the world in areas of conflict. Austria was requested in 1960,five years after the declaration of permanent neutrality, by the United Nations about the use of the Austrian military personnel outside of the borders of the country.
At 9:15am I was at Heldenplatz – (Heroes Square) where thousands of Austrians were present toe celebrate the national day. About 1,200 Austrian soldiers were present in the square, waiting for the the start of the ceremony in which they would be sworn in. Meanwhile, Austrian Federal President Dr. Heinz Fischer laid a wreath at the grave of the unknown soldier in remembrance of the Austrians victims of the Second world war.
President Fischer, Minister for Defense Nobert Darabos, the military commander Brig-Gen. Dr. Karl Schmidseder, Chancellor Werner Faymann and his vice Josef Pröll, Dr. Michael Ludwig of the city of Vienna and other government ministers and members of civil and military bodies were the present at the ceremonies for the national day of Austria. The ceremonies were followed with great interest by the Austrian and foreign public.
President Fischer briefed those present about the history of Austria and the importance of the national day to the Austrians. He said that Austria has its national day like most countries in the world. “Our national day reminds us of the 26th October 1955 and is linked to the full independence and the neutrality of Austria”. He pointed out that the army of Austria was built on the basis of universal conscription, and this is also enshrined in the Constitution. He added that the Austrian army is not only for national defense, that it carries out vital contributions to the protection and benefit of the Austrian population and also to international peacekeeping missions. President Fischer appealed the audience in his brief, saying: “I ask you all that you stay fully committed to stability, peace and security, for the Austrian national defense and thus for the Republic of Austria”.
Chancellor Faymann announced in his speech at the Heldenplatz the start of a debate about abandoning military service in favor of a professional army. He said: “The duties and organization of the armed forces are to be redefined in the coming months”. He added: “This is the start for an open discussion which will also include the experiences and models from other European countries which have opted for a professional army. We should not be surprised about the question of how the military defense of tomorrow might look in a united Europe. It is therefore important to analyze, discuss, weigh and decide”. He added: “Questions of civil defense, peacekeeping missions and national defense have already been answered”. At the same time, Faymann praised the military for its achievements in these areas. He said: “The Austrian armed forces can now be seen as a true international peacekeeping force”.
Minister Darabos clarified in his speech the understanding of the neutrality of Austria, which means that neutrality “is not for inaction but for solidarity”. Darabos also endorsed in his speech the idea of a process of discussion around the army involving the experience and models from other European countries saying that it is legitimate in a democracy “to question more critically” public institutions, including the army. He said: “The question is legitimate. We need the army for the security of our country, and the Austrians have the right to expect help from the army when they need it”. He said that he would guide the discussion process “within objective ways”.
Minister Darabos said that the army is currently a mix of career soldiers, conscripts and militia. “I support a broad and open discussion without taboos and I am open to the involvement of the public in this important issue concerning our society” said Darabos in reference to a possible future referendum on the abolition of conscription. Still, all the facts and arguments would have to be examined before a popular referendum went forward.
During the National day, the Parliament and the houses of the President and the Federal, the Foreign Ministry and other government institutions were opened to the public. Thousands of visitors went inside to look and to ask further information about the work of those organizations. According the various press releases published by APA, more than 10,000 people attended the open day at the Parliament alone.
During this Austrian national day the political, religious, military institutions and citizens of Austria were united at Heldenplatz where over 70,000 visitors gathered. Many visitors came with their families to the ceremonies at Heldenplatz and to look at the display of the army, which showed their equipment, offered food from field kitchens, and climbed down from helicopters, among other attractions. I noticed the presence of families of many recruits and officials taking part in the official ceremonies.
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