VIENNA (Dec. 1)
Leaders of the Socialist Party and the conservative Peoples Party were reported this week to be seriously discussing a possible successor to President Kurt Waldheim should he be forced to resign before his term expires.
The two parties comprise Austria’s governing coalition. They are waiting for the report of a six-member international commission of military historians presently investigating charges that Waldheim was implicated in the deportation of Greek Jews and in atrocities against civilians and resistance fighters while serving as a German army intelligence officer in the Balkans during World War II.
The commission, headed by Hans Rudolf Kurz of Switzerland, includes historians from the United States, Britain, West Germany, Belgium and Israel. It is expected to present its findings in mid-January.
As the panel convened here Monday for its third meeting, the local branch of the Socialist Party in the state of Tyrol called, at its annual congress, for Waldheim to resign. The Vienna section of the party demanded his resignation last month.
Waldheim, however, is standing fast. After Kurz announced Sunday that the commission would like to question him as a witness, Waldheim said he would not consider its report binding. The commission is not a court, he said, and for the president to bow to the findings of a foreign, non-judicial body would denigrate Austrian sovereignty and set a dangerous precedent.
His remarks indicated a growing uneasiness on the part of Waldheim and his supporters over the nature of the commission’s report. The body, funded by the Austrian government, was installed by Foreign Minister Alois Mock, who is deputy premier and chairman of the Peoples Party, which sponsored Waldheim’s successful presidential race in the summer of 1986.
Mock has sought to limit the commission’s mandate to a finding of guilt or innocence of the charges brought against Waldheim. But the panel has shown a high degree of independence. Kurz said here Sunday, “We will not judge. We will just say what happened. The politics and the media will have to act.”
Waldheim has responded to calls for his resignation by warning in a newspaper interview that it would touch off a state crisis. He used the word “Dolchstosslegende” (stab in the back), implying strongly that it would be at the hands of the Jews.
He attacked politicians of both coalition parties for developing scenarios about what to do in case the commission recommends that he leave office. He noted that while that office is largely ceremonial, he was elected by a majority of the Austrian people. “It certainly won’t work like certain gentlemen think it will,” he said.
Nevertheless, names are being mentioned as possible successors to Waldheim. The Socialists might propose Helmut Zilk, the newly elected mayor of Vienna. But they are apparently willing to consider a conservative candidate to be elected by the National Assembly, the country’s legislative body comprised of both houses of parliament.
One possible candidate who appears acceptable to the Socialists is Alfred Maleta, a staunch conservative who as a Catholic anti-Nazi spent the war years in a concentration camp.
Socialists and conservatives seem to agree that the worst possible outcome would be for Waldheim to stay in office under the shadow of guilt, resulting in the further diplomatic and political isolation of Austria.