Right of Reply: Don't judge Austria based on Haider

It is legitimate to criticize a country if there is reason and substance, but it is unfair to apply incorrect stereotypes about Austria as a whole.

J?rg Haider Jorg 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
J?rg Haider Jorg 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Benjamin Weinthal´s article on November 12 entitled, "Is Austria largely Haider" touched on many sensitive issues between Austria and Israel. While always open to valid criticism, I feel that I have to clarify some of the unfounded comments and conclusions expressed in the article, and I would like to address three issues of main concern to us: First, the bilateral relations between Austria and Israel are excellent - probably better than they have ever been. In the last 12 months, the federal chancellor, the foreign minister, the minister of defense and the minister for science and research, as well as many other high-ranking personalities from politics, business, culture and science have visited Israel. Next month the Austrian Federal President Heinz Fischer will be in Israel on an official State visit, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the country, and underlining the strength of our relations. Second, Chancellor Vranitzky´s speech in 1991 to the Austrian Parliament, in Vienna, and his speech at Hebrew University in 1993, as well as President Klestil speech to the Knesset in 1994 all clearly demonstrate the Austrian government's determination and capability to face the darkest years in Austrian history. Remembrance of and reflection on the Shoah are very much present in the Austrian consciousness, both in an official capacity and individual. Since the establishment of the "National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism," over 60.000 applications have been processed, and 450 million Euro has been paid to victims of the National Socialist regime in Austria. In addition, a "Fund for the Future" supports projects and scientific work in memory of the victims, as do many other governmental and non-governmental institutions. Austria´s position against denial and forgetting can be reflected in one of its most stringent laws, the Prohibition Act against Nazi and Neo Nazi activities; the country has also been honored by its current role as President of the "Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research." We will certainly continue on this path, aware that while the horrors of the past can never be undone, it is the work for the "never again" that is essential. Third, when it comes to Mr. Jörg Haider, one has to remember that he was not only a long-time politician but also the governor of one of the nine Austrian provinces. He held the elected post of Governor for over 9 years, which might explain why Austria´s leading politicians attended his funeral; after all, it was protocol. Regarding the government's stance towards Israel and Iran, there can be no argument. Austria considers her relations with Israel as one of utmost importance, and does everything in its power to further develop and deepen its warm and friendly ties with Israel. Further, Austria has always strongly condemned every single public statement that could have been considered as questioning Israel's right to exist, or as being anti-Semitic - such as those voiced by Iranian officials, and the Iranian president in particular. And, we will continue to condemn any such statements in the future, in the strongest possible terms. Austria is aware of Israel's concerns regarding Iran, and we take them very seriously. Austria has always fully implemented United Nations sanctions against Iran and continues to do so. If new sanctions are passed in a UN Security Council Resolution, Austria will of course act accordingly. Austria actively participates in the relevant discussions concerning possible additional measures against Iran, which are taking place among the member states of the European Union and there is no question that Austria feels bound by all EU-decisions in this regard. Let me conclude by saying that no, Austria is not largely Haider. Yes, Haider was also Austrian. It is legitimate to criticize a country if there is reason and substance and Austria is fully aware of her past and current challenges. But it is unfair to apply incorrect stereotypes about Austria as a whole. Michael Rendi is the Ambassador of Austria to Israel