Often confused with its antipodean near namesake, Austria is located at the heart of Europe, at a crossroads that have led to both its rise and also to its demise.

When you mention Austria, the stereotypes picture Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johan Straus with his waltzes and the ubiquitous Sound of Music. However, there are many household names that you had probable not associated with Austria!

Austria is a proud nation of 8.4 million people! Undoubtedly the heydays were with the creation of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, in 1867, which spanned most of Europe from the mountainous Tyrol, northern Italy and east to the fertile plains of Ukraine to the Transylvanian mountains including 11 major ethno-language groups. Decimated by the first and subsequently by the second world war, Austria became relatively small. However, with the rise of the Iron Curtain, Austria found itself in a rather unique position of having borders to 4 European countries, and 3 borders to Eastern Europe. Whilst we all know that there were major political divisions with the former Soviet Union, there still remained considerable trade and much of this was conducted through Austria.

It also became the centre of the European/Soviet Union spy trade immortalised in the Third Man movie with its wonderful Harry Lime theme tune.

Quietly Austria recovered and its economy grew to be a major player in European politics and business. As relationships with the Soviet Union relaxed it was many of the Austrian businesses that saw opportunity (the author included) in Russia and it is surprising to find how many Austrian companies have had offices in Moscow, long before their other European/International counterparts. In fact, it was Austrian Airlines who were one of the first ‘western’ airlines allowed to fly into the Soviet Union.

There are a surprising number of substantial Austrian companies operating today in Russia together with a thriving community. As a ‘quasi’ Austrian, having spent more than 20 years living there I was also one of the early brigade of Austrians travelling regularly to Russia in the early 1990’s. I have been honoured to have been able to maintain my connections and we felt that a feature article on Austria was long overdue. Moscow expat Life was honoured to be welcomed into this community and the subsequent interviews make most interesting reading! Enjoy.