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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Austrian neutrality in the changing Europe [microform] : a study of neutrality’s significance using a core-periphery model of human belief systems Zyhlarz-Shaw, Sarah Louise


The objective of this thesis is to respond to the following questions: Do Austrians view neutrality primarily as instrumental in serving pragmatic ends, or has it become a core value within their belief systems and thus valued as part of their identity? If neutrality is part of the Austrian sense of self, why is this so and to what effect? Has neutrality become such a core value that it might stand in the way of membership in the European Community ( EC), if not for Austria as a whole, at least for many Austrians who might otherwise have benefitted from such a membership? Milton Rokeach’s centre-periphery model of human belief systems provides the theoretical framework for this study. According to this model, all values within our systems of belief are ranged from central to peripheral, and this hierarchy of beliefs determines identity. Those beliefs which are more centrally-located are more closely bound to identity and thus have greater import than more peripheral, or pragmatic needs. Therefore, if compelled to make a choice, those values which are located close to the centre and are integral elements within our sense of identity will take precedence over those pragmatic interests which are more peripherally-located, regardless of how pressing. Drawing on popular opinion polls, political debates, government statements and the media in general, I have comprised a general picture of the views of the Austrian public and “elite”, which play an important role in shaping public opinion, towards neutrality and membership in the EC. This study indicates that there is a widespread perception that neutrality no longer serves those pragmatic ends for which it was originally designed, and that in fact it is increasingly perceived to be a liability. Nevertheless, although by most accounts it fails any cost/benefit analysis, overwhelmingly Austrians are opposed to the notion of abandoning neutrality, even if in the worst case the retention of neutrality requires forfeiting membership in the EC. Because neutrality fails to serve the pragmatic interests of Austria and in fact serves as a hindrance to the satisfaction of these interests, but nonetheless remains highly esteemed, it must be concluded that neutrality is not valued for its instrumentality but because it is grounded in the Austrian identity as a people. To become integrated in forty short years into Austrian’s sense of self, neutrality must in some way represent an emotional attachment to past sufferings and glories, to institutions and traditions shared as a people. Mindful of the historical context in which Austrian neutrality was declared and the experiences which led up to this declaration, I suggest that neutrality has become a core value as it eased the transition from empire to small state by providing Austria with a context in which it could play the prestigious role of ‘conscience for the world”. Moreover, through the provision of good offices it offered Austrians an opportunity to wield influence beyond their own borders and thus resume their historical position as the “crossroads” of Europe. In a similar vein, neutrality was further valued in that in the attendant pursuit of humanitarianism, Austria was able to foster ties with their neighbours to the east, with whom it shares a long past. Furthermore, neutrality speaks to the Austrian tendency toward ambivalence, to avoid taking sides, and thus complements their socio-political culture. Finally, in that it offers a significant measure of independence in policy-making, both domestic and foreign, it is esteemed as a means of safeguarding Austrian values, culture and traditions, particularly important in the context of membership in the EC and in view of Austria’s past relationship with their German cousins. Notwithstanding this conclusion, Austrian discourse on neutrality, especially by the political elite, is marked by denial of its patent incompatibility with membership in the EC. In view of this, I suggest that neutrality in itself will not pose the deciding stumbling block to Austrian accession to the EC, but rather, Austrians will adopt their usual approach and find some “gray area” whereby they may reconcile the absurd notion of a neutral state within the EC.

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