VPO & Haider: Empty Declarations

By William Osborne

[Sent to various lists February 4, 2000.]


For those who might not know,  Austria's newly elected far-right/neo-Nazi "Freedom Party" has been given half of the ministerial posts in the Austrian Federal Government.   (The party's leader, Joerg Haider, has praised the employment policies of Hitler and has referred to the concentration camps as "punishment camps."  The Freedom Party now heads the Austrian Department of Justice.)  The European Union has threatened Austria with sanctions.  And some of its leaders, such as the foreign minister of Belgium, Louis Michel, have hinted that a way might be found to expell Austria.  Israel has recalled its Austrian ambassador.


The issue is very serious since several other European countries have strong far right/neo-Nazi parties whose legitimacy will be enhanced by the inclusion of the Freedom Party in Austria's government.


In what the new Austrian coalition describes as a "pre-emptive political strike" against its critics, Haider and his conservative party partner, Wolfgang Schleussel, signed a manifesto acknowledging Austria's responsibility "arising out of the tragic history of the 20th century and the horrendous crimes of the National Socialist (or Nazi) regime."


Shortly afterwards Haider criticized the President of Austria, Thomas Kleistil, for forcing him to sign the declaration, terming it "an affront to the Austrian public."


The declaration has impressed few.  German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping said during a visit to Israel that the declaration "sounds like lip service" and that Austria is making "a historic mistake."  US State Department spokesman James Foley said that any suggestion that "our concerns would evaporate simply on the basis of a statement is not credible."


This must seem familiar to members of the IAWM.  The Vienna Philharmonic first said it would allow membership to women 1981, but 19 years of "lip service" has produced nothing.  The IAWM has learned that its concerns about the VPO cannot "evaporate simply on the basis of a statement."  The orchestra steadfastly refuses to hold blind auditions through all rounds, and continues to exclude women and non-whites.  It even requires a photo with job applications.  Both the VPO and Haider illustrate that the declarations of bigots under pressure mean little.


Carnegie Hall should end its duplicity and stop inviting the Vienna Philharmonic for yearly concerts.  As Bernhard Holland noted in the _New York Times_ last October, "The Vienna has become almost as much of an institution in New York as it is at home."   The Vienna Philharmonic cannot separate itself from Haider as long as it continues to reflect the same values of sexism and racism.  Nothing but the inclusion of women and non-whites will show that it has changed.  Actions speak; empty words meaning nothing.


William Osborne