Waldheim Says Austria Has a Problem with Its Past but Avoids Citing His Past As Part of the Problem

President Kurt Waldheim suggested to his fellow Austrians this week that their country has a problem with its past which “we have tried to suppress in recent years” and advised them to learn from experience. He also warned against evading the past.

The President spoke at the traditional New Year reception for the diplomatic corps at the Hofburg Palace. It was his first allusion, since his election last July, to historical events that continue to haunt Austria. He did not intimate that his own personal past was part of the problem.

Austrians, he said, “have had to learn to live with more international criticism than ever before. We consider much of it unjust, but we may have heard some questions that were justly asked. Many things we have tried to suppress in recent years have returned even more intensely.”

But “it is never too late to learn from these experiences,” Waldheim said. “We have learned there is no collective guilt for a people but there is such a thing as a heavy common heritage which no individual can evade. Only by being ready to draw the conclusions from this past do we have the chance to master the problems of today and tomorrow.”

The reception was Waldheim’s first meeting with the U.S. Ambassador Ronald Lauder, who was absent from Vienna when the President was inaugurated. Diplomats from all other Embassies, except Israel’s, were present.

Israel has yet to replace its Ambassador, Michael Elizur, who retired several months ago, Jerusalem has made clear it does not want an Israeli envoy to present credentials to an Austrian President whose Nazi past was exposed during the election campaign last summer.

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