Domestic Issues

Austria Table of Contents

Kreisky's style and tone struck a chord with the Austrian electorate, and his personal popularity was enhanced by the country's economic prosperity in the 1970s. His legislative and economic program was built on the existing political consensus and ratified by the social partners. Many measures continued to pass unanimously in the Nationalrat. Employee benefits were expanded, the workweek was cut to forty hours, and legislation providing for equality for women was passed. The period of mandatory military service was cut from nine months to six months. Three issues, however, divided the country: abortion, nuclear power and environmental damage, and ethnic minority rights.

In 1973 the SPÍ passed a law over the opposition of the ÍVP and the FPÍ that legalized abortion on demand during the first trimester. Popular opposition backed by the Roman Catholic Church manifested itself in a petition drive that helped bring the issue before parliament again in the spring of 1976. The law, however, was upheld.

In the early 1970s, the international energy crisis triggered by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil cartel and the Arab oil embargo exposed Austria's vulnerability to imported energy supplies. To reduce this vulnerability, Kreisky continued the construction of a nuclear power plant at Zwentendorf, sixty kilometers from Vienna, and planned the construction of three other plants. As the Zwentendorf facility neared completion in the late 1970s, however, the public expressed growing concern about the safety of nuclear power. The SPÍ did not want to alienate the environmental movement and its bloc of voters, but it also needed to satisfy its trade union constituency, which favored the project. The issue was settled by means of a national referendum on November 5, 1978. Despite Kreisky's vigorous campaign for the plant, the electorate narrowly rejected opening the plant.

Seeking to implement provisions in the 1955 State Treaty regarding the rights of the country's Croat and Slovene minority communities, parliament enacted a law in 1972 to erect duallanguage signs wherever the minority population of a locality was at least 20 percent. Such signs were placed in some 200 of the 2,900 towns and villages in Carinthia. With the support of local officials and police, however, the German-speaking population reacted violently and ripped the signs down, reflecting lingering hostility provoked by Yugoslav efforts to annex the province after World War II. In an effort to resolve the matter, the government took a census in 1976 to determine Carinthia's ethnic make-up. Because the Slovene population had declined greatly since 1914, when it accounted for 25 percent of the total populace, Slovene leaders called for a boycott of the census, and the results were not considered reliable. Dual-language signs were erected in 1977 where the local minority population was believed to be over 25 percent.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress