Austrian finance minister: plight of bankers like Holocaust

Maria Fekter says people should not blame banks or the wealthy for economic crisis, cites libel against Jews during interwar years.

Maria Fekter 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader )
Maria Fekter 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader )
BERLIN – Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter is at the center of a storm of controversy in the central European country because she compared criticism of bankers and rich people to the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust, according to Austrian media reports over the weekend.
Fekter, from the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), said at a meeting of European Union finance ministers in Breslau, Poland that “In Europe we are now turning banks and the wealthy into enemies. This has already happened once, especially during the period against the Jews, but also against similar groups. And that drove us to two wars.”
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She added that “We must therefore do everything so that this scenario does not recur.”
The mass circulation daily Krone reported that Chancellor Werner Faymann, from the Social Democrats and head of the grand coalition with the conservative party, said on Saturday that “members of the government should set an example and behave sensibly.”
Faymann warned that one should use statements addressing the Nazi period in an appropriate manner because of the atrocities of the era of National Socialism and the special responsibility associated with the period.
Faymann’s strong rebuke prompted the Austrian finance minister to quickly withdraw her comparison, saying “I apologize to those who felt hurt by my comments” and “the crimes of National Socialism and in particular the Holocaust are not comparable to anything else.”
The Austrian Defense Minister Norbert Darabos said in the Krone paper he “would not have expected this type of statement from a top representative of a Christian social party and a member of the Austrian government. This comparison is a scorn for the survivors of the Nazi atrocities and family members of the millions of victims of the National Socialists.”
According to the Krone daily, the head of the Green Party, Eva Glawischnig, said that if Fekter is serious about her view comparing a social fair tax on the rich with persecution of Jews then “she is not acceptable as finance minister.”
Asked about her comments on Tuesday, Karl Pfeifer, a veteran journalist in Vienna who has reported on Austrian anti-Semitism, told the Post , “Did Ms. Fekter express herself clearly? No she did not. But if Austria was to fire every politician who can’t express his/her thoughts clearly not many would be left. As a matter of fact there is a widespread anti- Americanism and anti-capitalism felt in Europe.”
Pfeifer continued that “Conspiracy theories flourish and sinister banking interests are blamed for almost everything on earth, especially by those anti-Semitically inclined, who believe the Jews equal money.
Ms. Fekter wanted probably to indicate that there is a connection between such mentalities and anti-Semitism. Because she did not clearly say so, she was accused of downplaying the Holocaust and offending the Jews.”