NEW YORK (Jul. 25)
Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel and his West German counterpart Richard von Weizsacker have clarified that they will have no official or private meetings with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim during their visit to the Salzburg music and arts festival Thursday, the West German Embassy said Wednesday.
But in an apparent attempt to avert diplomatic discourtesy, the two heads of state have agreed to attend a small luncheon party that will be attended by Waldheim.
Von Weizsacker and Havel have also acknowledged that it would be impossible to avoid shaking Waldheim’s hand in the official protocol line that is sure to welcome them to the festival.
“They’ve subsumed morality to the politics of expediency,” said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.
“They should avoid going to Salzburg and avoid any confrontation with Waldheim. If they shake hands with Waldheim, they are sending the wrong signal and will undermine their own moral status,” Steinberg said.
According to the West German embassy, Weizsacker decided to attend the festival as a favor to Havel as well as to “pay tribute to the Austrian people.”
An American protest group called the Coalition of Concern demonstrated Wednesday outside von Weizsacker’s West Berlin residence, urging the president to cancel any contacts with Waldheim in Salzburg.
The demonstrators displayed a large picture of Waldheim in German army uniform and a poster-size copy of the U.N. War Crimes Commission document from 1948 in which Yugoslavia requested his arrest for the alleged crime of murder.
The coalition is expected to demonstrate in Salzburg, as well.
“We are not only appalled at Weizsacker and Havel breaking the political ban on heads of state meeting with the odious Waldheim,” said Rabbi Avraham Weiss of New York, who heads the coalition, “but we are also deeply concerned that a united Germany feels it can act in flagrant disregard of international moral repugnance of unrepentant Nazis.”
Havel’s decision not to meet with Waldheim is a major public snub to the Austrian president, as it is normal diplomatic courtesy for a visiting head of a friendly state to greet a country’s titular chief officially.
It is thought that Waldheim, with his popularity flagging and re-election to the presidency in doubt, will nevertheless try to cash in on the presence of Czechoslovakia’s dissident-turned-president.
“Even if they don’t meet privately, Waldheim is going to be knocking over tables to get to Havel,” said Steinberg.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a statement Wednesday, citing their “disappointment that Czech president Vaclav Havel will meet Kurt Waldheim at the Salzburg Music Festival on Thursday,” but noting they were “pleased by the assurances it has received that President Havel will not meet privately with Waldheim.”