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An Austrian-manned United Nations checkpoint on the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria
Courtesy United States Department of Defense

Respect for the law and devotion to social tranquillity are engrained in the Austrian character. Domestic groups committed to violence or terrorism play no significant political role. No major strikes, unruly demonstrations, or public unrest have threatened the stability of the Second Republic. Because of a high standard of living and minimal unemployment, crime remains relatively low. Assaults and other crimes involving violence are particularly uncommon, although crimes against property have risen more than 10 percent in some years. Law enforcement agencies are efficient and are regarded with respect. Since the late 1980s, however, instances of mistreatment of arrested persons and improper activities of the organs of security have made necessary measures to restore the public's confidence in the police.

Austria has been the country of first asylum for 2 million refugees from Eastern Europe since the end of World War II. Austria's hospitality toward refugees underwent a change in the early 1990s as political refugees were outnumbered by economically motivated immigrants seeking work. Feeling it necessary to stem the flow, Austrian authorities tightened entry requirements and reinforced regular border guards with armed forces, mainly to prevent illegal Romanian immigrants from entering the country through Hungary. Beginning in mid-1991, thousands of Yugoslavs were allowed into Austria as a result of civil war in their country, although more than 100,000 were turned back at the point of entry. As of May 1993, about 65,000 refugees had been admitted from the former Yugoslavia.

Austria is a frequent setting for international negotiation and conciliation, and individuals representing a wide spectrum of beliefs are permitted to carry out political activities without interference within its borders. In addition to being the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Vienna is the site of major East-West negotiations. Austria has traditionally maintained good relations with many Middle Eastern states, and various Arab groups are allowed to operate freely in Austrian territory.

There is perhaps a price to be paid for this tolerance, however. Several terrorist incidents have been linked to situations in the Middle East, one of the worst occurring at an OPEC meeting in Vienna in 1975 when three men were killed, many were wounded, and thirty-three hostages were taken from among the Arab leaders attending. Attacks against Jewish targets in 1981 and among passengers awaiting a flight on El Al, the Israeli airline, at the Vienna airport in 1975 led to the imprisonment of several Arab terrorists. In 1987 the former Libyan ambassador to Austria, who was an opponent of Muammar al Qadhafi's regime in Libya, was wounded in an assassination attempt. In 1989 three Kurdish activists, including the leader of the Iranian Kurdish Democratic Party, were assassinated during a meeting with three Iranian officials. Criticism was leveled against Austrian authorities for their failure to curb the activities of the Libyan and Iranian diplomatic missions, whose personnel were implicated in the attacks.

Prior to the adoption of an autonomy agreement in 1969, agitation among German-speaking residents of South Tirol (the province of Alto Adige in the region of Trentino-Alto Adige) for its return to Austrian control from Italy was accompanied by a campaign of terrorist bombings. In 1967 army units were moved to the border area to support the gendarmerie and border police in preventing Austrian territory from being used as a sanctuary and source of explosives. Terrorist incidents dropped off sharply thereafter, although, after an unsuccessful attempt to derail a train in 1988, a South Tirolean was sentenced by an Austrian court to a five-and-one-half-year prison term (see Regional Issues , ch. 4).

According to public opinion surveys, anti-Semitism continued to exist in Austria to some extent, and some Austrians remained pro-Nazi (see Attitudes Toward Minorities , ch. 2). Although freedom of assembly and association are provided for in the constitution, the State Treaty of 1955 and previous legislation made an exception in the case of Nazi organizations and activities. In early 1992, the security authorities cracked down on the neo-Nazi network after one group, the Trenck Military Sports Group, was found to have handguns and automatic weapons and to engage in paramilitary training. Police intelligence discovered that the groups had received funds and propaganda material from the United States and Canada. Moreover, thousands of names of sympathizers had reportedly been found in the files of Gottfried Küssel, a central figure in the neo-Nazi movement.

Data as of December 1993

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