Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen speaks at the Council of Europe, January 2018.
(photo credit: VINCENT KESSLER/ REUTERS)
Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen on Saturday called on Freedom Party (FPO) candidate Udo Landbauer to step down from elections in the province of Lower Austria after it emerged a group he was a member of had distributed song books with Nazi content.
The anti-immigrant Freedom Party (FPO), junior coalition government partner to Chancellor Sebastian Kurz's conservatives, was founded by former Nazis and has repeatedly excluded members in Nazi scandals. It says it has left its Nazi past behind.
"It's not just a case of whitewashing ... but a ridicule of mass murder during the Holocaust, especially the ridicule of the gassing of millions of Jews in Auschwitz," Van der Bellen said on the TV program Mittagsjournal on Austrian broadcaster Oe1.
"I mean, where are we? To just accept that without any commentary, and saying the courts must decide over the matter, that's not my position."
Landbauer, the FPO's top candidate in Lower Austria, which holds a provincial election this weekend, was deputy leader of a fraternity which came under close attention this week when it emerged that it produced a songbook in 1997 that included references to killing Jews.
Landbauer suspended his membership of the fraternity after the scandal erupted and denied any knowledge of such songs.
He said the judiciary had to deal with the case, but added that the book in question had been produced when he was 11 years old, meaning he could not be held responsible for it.
Prosecutors have opened an investigation against persons unknown.
Earlier this week, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called for the author of the songbook to be punished. Landbauer's affiliation with the fraternity responsible for the book's distribution was made public, though Interior Minister Herbert Kickl, who also belongs to the Freedom Party, said that Landbauer would not be exposed to legal action over the booklet.