"Sorry Austria," said the headline in Die Welt of 12 September. The sanctions placed against Austria by the states of the European Union in February 2000 were lifted and thus, in the words of the leader of the Austrian Social Democrats Alfred Gusenbauer, "a curtain of lead was lifted from Austrian politics." (Berliner Zeitung, 14 September)
So the infamous populist and former leader of the Austrian Freedom Party, Jörg Haider, received a second bout of unwarranted attention from the press. The first occurred when the sanctions were laid. This extra press included two eye-catching photos in the Berliner Zeitung and one startlingly large Haider family photograph, sitting á la The Sound of Music in the Austrian Alps, courtesy of Die Welt.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung published a chronology of the Haider saga on 11 September. Here we are reminded of just how little influence Jörg Haider actually had or has. He was neither a member of the government nor the leader of the Freedom Party. Nonetheless, the European Union (EU) feared that he would rise to block democracy in Austria and Europe.
The Tageszeitung points out that when sanctions are imposed without any legal basis, the difficulty of how exactly to remove them becomes problematic. (Tageszeitung, 14 September) Alas, the EU is now relegated once more to mere "observation" of Austria—after six months of sanctions nothing in the country has changed.
For obvious reasons, the EU fears right-wing extremism, as do many Europeans. But does the EU support the premise that any left-wing government can better curb right-wing extremism, racism and xenophobia? Germany, under Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder, would hardly stand a chance. France, steeped in self-righteousness, led the way with Germany in the sanctions against Austria. Never mind that the French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, is at least partially supported by the self-avowed Stalinists, the Ligue Communiste Revolutionaire.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung thus poses a most important question. What are we to learn from the failed sanctions against Austria? (13 September) This paper points out the obvious: "One convinces the European opponents of Europe with republican decision-making and with trust in the democratic capability of people, states and governments." While the EU observes its member states, Europeans should also in turn observe the EU. This vast and not fully accountable entity must show that it too can trust in the democratic capabilities of its member nations. Tissue paper sanctions and charters will soon prove inadequate.
A renewed fear of Germany?
Douglas Hurd, the British foreign minister from 1989 to 1995, declared apprehensively, in the headline, "There isn't really fear of Germany anymore." (Berliner Zeitung, 12 September) He goes on to explain that instead Britain now fears the European Commission and the threat of a European super state.
Moreover, Germany pays the highest EU membership fees—it subsidises other member states, is highly active in European governance and remains a centrally located powerhouse with a population of over 70 million. Hence, has Britain's diminished fear of Germany been more aptly replaced by a renewed fear of Germany? Hurd's intended point gets lost among the distinctly conveyed impression that there is indeed still something to fear. He is now attempting to curb those fears through the German-British Forum, which he leads. This forum tries to "Enhance exchanges between Great Britain and Germany, so that a dialogue is built on communal interests and ideas."
Germans love Gorby...
An article in the Frankfurter Zeitung by Markus Wehner essentially highlights how much the Germans love former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whilst at the same time Gorbachev feels out of place in Russia. This article of 12 September followed Gorbachev's visit with the Social Democrats (SDP) in Germany. In the opinion of this author, it was Gorby who, apparently single-handedly, dismantled Communism in the Eastern bloc with glasnost and perestroika.
Present-day Russian president, Vladimir Putin, recently broke with tradition and invited Gorbachev to the Kremlin. Thus, Gorbachev was reinitiated into the realm of Russian politics, saying that he could detect "no dictatorial tendencies" in Putin. With the former leader's return to Russian politics, the author of the article rejoices, leaving the reader wondering what the point of this exercise in Gorbachev-adulation is all about.
...Russians, however, don't
It appears that some Russians certainly do not care about Gorbachev's resurgence into public life. Another article in the Frankfurter Zeitung ("The counter-attack begins with Dzerzhinsky's Monument," 11 September) tells the story of some Russians' disillusionment with Gorbachev and former Soviet president, Boris Yeltsin. The article explains why a group of Russians are protesting in favour of the reinstitution of a monument commemorating Feliks Dzerzhinsky, founder of the KGB. One woman is quoted as saying, "they [ostensibly present day leaders] have broken our country! Until the monument stands again, we are staying here! The traitors of the Soviet Union should be brought to trial! Yeltsin, the whole troupe of them!"
President Putin could well be on their side, as he did indeed restore a monument of Yuri Andropov, also leader of the KGB, before he became head of the state and party between 1982 and 1984. Lest we think that merely a fringe of people with nothing better to do than hope for the reinstitution of national monuments for criminals—the resurrection of Dzerzhinsky's monument was debated in the Duma and lacked only a couple of votes to pass the notion.
To sum up, Austria and the European Union once again dominated the media, this time not in conjunction with Temelín, although the issue still simmers on the back burner. Nor did the issue of the Sudeten German expulsions from Eastern Europe disappear; the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published a long, academic discussion ("Disallowed Counter-Aggression," 11 September) by Professor Dr Peter Koslowski, regarding the nature of law in a civilised society and revenge.
Do two wrongs make a right? Did the sanctions against Austria absolve Haider of his sins? To both, the answer is no. And so Germany and the neighbouring nations to the East continue to grapple with contemporary questions rooted in a tumultuous history.
Andrea Mrozek, 15 September 2000
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