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Many of the most heartwarming tales come out of Austria. One thinks of Oberndorf and the little parish church where the organ broke down on Christmas Eve 1818 and so Father Mohr and his organist Franz Gruber wrote a simple song that could be sung with only the accompaniment of a guitar: "Silent Night."
One thinks of the von Trapp family saying so long, farewell, auf wiedersehn, adieu to yieu and yieu and yieu and scramming Nazi Salzburg for a new life in Vermont.
And now we have a third inspirational story from little Austria. One day, a few years after the Trapps skedaddled outta there, a young man was born near Graz. His name was Arnold and he worked out every day and went to America and became Governor of California, and one morning he had to make a decision on whether or not to commute the death sentence of a multiple murderer called Tookie Williams. And he decided instead to let Tookie's execution go ahead.
And back in his old stomping grounds of Graz the politicians went bananas. In the old days, when some local lad made good and became Fuhrer of another state and started killing people, the hometown crowd couldn't wait to have a big ol' Anschluss with him. But times change, and contemplating Arnold's reign of terror his fellow Grazis decided they wanted to disAnschluss themselves from him. Outraged by Tookie's demise, Social Democratic and Green councilors and MPs immediately took action. Or what passes for "action" in European politics these days.
They demanded that Arnold's name be removed from the Arnold Schwarzenegger football stadium. They proposed that it should be renamed the Tookie Williams football stadium. They launched moves to strip Arnold of his Austrian citizenship on the grounds that the death penalty is illegal in Europe, which is why a barbaric nation like the United States is ineligible for membership in the EU. ("What a tragedy," as Americans always say when you point this out to them.)
"People have had enough of him," Peter Pilz, an MP in the Steiermark regional parliament, told The Guardian. "For us, he has committed a state crime."
Personally I have no feelings one way or another on the death penalty. But I'm strongly in favor of sovereign jurisdictions having the right to run their own criminal justice systems. Which is why I rejoice at Arnold's reaction to the "threat" from Graz.
Writing to the mayor of his old town, Schwarzenegger noted that in the course of his gubernatorial term he'd have to make decisions on other death-row inmates, too - the next one comes up in January. So, wrote the governor, "in order to spare the responsible politicians of the city of Graz further concern, I withdraw from them as of this day the right to use my name in association with the Liebenauer Stadium... I expect the lettering to be removed by the end of 2005" - and, given that most European municipal workers are on vacation till the second week of January, that means the mayor may have had to sub-contract the job to any obliging Albanian Muslim refugees he could round up.
"The use of my name to advertise or promote the city of Graz in any way is no longer allowed," continued Arnold. "Graz will not have any problems in the future with my decisions as governor of California, because officially nothing connects us any more."
And just for good measure he returned the "Ring of Honor" he was given in 1999 for the "pride and recognition" he brought Graz.
THAT WOULD seem to suit everybody. Graz will be free to rename its stadium after Tookie Williams on New Year's Day and the "state criminal" Schwarzenegger no longer has to live in dread of being formally stripped of his "Ring of Honor" in a humiliating resolution of the Graz council.
But mysteriously the governor's severing of ties with his home town seemed to distress them. The mayor, Siegfried Nagl, begged Arnold to reconsider, only to be told that the ring was already in the mail. It seems that, aside from Kurt Waldheim, there haven't been a lot of internationally marketable Austrians in recent years, and somehow the campaign to rename the football stadium has lost its momentum. The former Crip gang leader would certainly look very fetching on a souvenir dirndl or baggy gangsta-style lederhosen, and no doubt you could have a range of commemorative dishes on the cafeteria menu - say, a 7-Eleven schnitzel, to mark Tookie's murder of 26-year old store clerk Albert Lewis Owens, followed by a Brookhaven strudel, to honor the motel at which he murdered an elderly Taiwanese family for a hundred bucks, all washed down with a Muthaf--ka apfelsaft, named for the term he used to threaten the jurors who convicted him. Should do wonders for the Austrian tourism industry.
Schwarzenegger is no conservative, and has been a disappointing governor. But his letter is magnificent, and the pleasure it affords was only heightened by the hilarious Guardian headline to its report on the "controversy": "Schwarzenegger Faces 'Tookie' Backlash In Austria."
No, he doesn't. With one typewritten sheet, he's ended the whole damn backlash, and usefully offered a good basic template for US-EU relations that recognizes the basic differences between the two: Americans have responsibilities, Europeans have attitudes. Indeed, the EU has attitudes in inverse proportion to its ability to act on them. It's able to strut and preen on the world stage secure in the knowledge that nobody expects it to do anything about anything. If entire nations want to embrace self-congratulatory, holier-than-thou gesture politics as a way of life, why not give them a hand? The politicians of Graz want Tookie to be a domestic political issue? Now he is, if only for the tourist industry.
So, like the von Trapps, Arnold is singing as he goes:
Green Party poseurs
And posturing mayors
For multiple slayers
Dull civic honors of cheap cheesy rings
These are a few of my least fav'rite things...
Arnold to Graz: Don't ring me, I'll ring you.
The writer is senior North American columnist for Britain's Telegraph Group