VIENNA (Jul. 15)
Some Austrians were disappointed by the sparse international attention paid to Chancellor Franz Vranitzky’s strong statement last week acknowledging Austrian collusion with the Nazis.
Heads of government do not frequently risk arousing the ire of their citizens by apologizing “to survivors and relatives of the dead” for Austria’s participation in the Holocaust.
Vranitzky, a Socialist, took a political risk by dredging up an unsavory part of Austria’s past in a July 8 speech to the Austrian Parliament.
Some of his fellow citizens did not want to hear it, especially members of the younger generation, who wondered why they should feel guilty about events that occurred before they were born.
But more than a few Austrians welcomed Vranitzky’s blunt recital of Austria’s Nazi past as a necessary purging of the national psyche.
“It is better late than never,” wrote Michael Lingens of the financial weekly Wochenpresse.
Like other commentators, he saw at least three reasons for Vranitzky’s painful candor.
First, President Kurt Waldheim, whose longconcealed Nazi past is now well documented, announced last month that he would not run for a second term. Therefore, speaking openly about the Holocaust was possible without being construed as a political tactic by Waldheim’s rivals for the presidency.
Second, Jorg Haider, 38-year-old leader of the right-wing, populist Freedom Party who recently praised the Third Reich for its employment policies, was voted out of office last month as governor of the province of Carinthia.
Vranitzky wanted to make clear that no politician with fond recollections of the Nazi regime–which ceased to exist before he was born — is acceptable in Austria today.
The Freedom Party faces ouster from the International Union of Liberal Parties.
Finally, as Lingens noted, Vranitzky is well aware that in applying for membership in the European Community, Austria must demonstrate a realistic attitude toward its past.
While the Jewish community was pleased and relieved by his speech, some provincial circles rejected the chancellor’s use of the collective pronouns “we” and “us” when he referred to past misdeeds.
“Why does he ask for forgiveness in our name?” one commentator wanted to know. “We were not born yet and we are not guilty therefore,” he protested.
A Vienna journalist replied to that complaint by asking, “How come he identifies with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? He was not alive then either.”