Nazi fears provoke a cultural exodus
Sent to various lists Febrraury 29, 2000
9 Feb 2000
By Toby Helm in Vienna
THE decision to cancel the Prince of Wales's visit to Austria came as
many leading musicians and authors planned to leave the country and international artists refused to play there in protest at the rise of
the far-Right party of Jörg Haider.
The most prominent among those pulling out is Gerhard Mortier, the
Belgian-born artistic director of the Salzburg Music Festival, who has announced his early resignation. Yesterday Betty Freeman, a major American sponsor of the event, announced that she would stop backing it. She wrote in a letter to the Salzburger Nachrichten: "I will not continue to support or visit the festival after summer 2000."
Eli Wiesel, the Romanian-born author and Nobel peace prize winner, has cancelled a visit on May 7. Elfriede Jelinek, an Austrian dramatist, has threatened to leave the country and has forbidden the performance of her work there, while Valie Export has refused the Kokoschka Prize, a distinction awarded by Austria for artistic achievement.
Mr Haider and members of his Freedom Party, which entered government with the conservative People's Party last week, have often attacked the work of some artists - particularly modern ones - and have demanded that
their state subsidies should be cut.
In Carinthia, the family of the late Ingeborg Bachmann, one of the
country's most revered poets and authors, has told Mr Haider that her
name cannot be used for the renowned Ingeborg Bachmann literature prize
until freedom of expression is guaranteed.
Paulus Manker, the modernist Austrian writer, director and actor, who is
preparing a show as a tribute to the Austrian pop star Falco who died in
a car crash last year, said: "If Mr Schüssel (the new Conservative
Chancellor) or Mr Haider thinks of attending one of the performances of
the show, I'll cancel it."
But the boycott by artists fearing a Nazi-style cultural clampdown has
been condemned by other leading artistic figures in Vienna, who say the
way to resist any threat to freedom of expression is to maintain a
vigorous and varied cultural output.
Rather than mount an exodus, artists should register their protests
through defiant performances, said Ioan Holender, director of the Vienna
State Opera. He said:
"I am not happy with the situation, but in times like this we should not
close the doors but open our mouths louder. If we close the doors now,
we do exactly what happened with the Nazis."
Dominique Mentha, new director of the Volksoper (People's Opera) in
Vienna, agreed. "I threaten the government by staying. We will react
to the situation by making radical theatre."
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in Brussels writes: The European Commission gave
warning yesterday that Mr Haider could block the EU's eastern
expansion. Despite assurances from the Austrian government that it is
committed to the EU's eastward march, Günther Verheugen, the Enlargement
Commissioner, said: "There is a clear risk because Mr Haider is
Mr Haider once called the EU's expansions plans in eastern Europe a
declaration of war against Austria, claiming that it would swamp the
country with impoverished Slav immigrants. Economic sanctions against
Austria have effectively already begun, with Belgian school parties
being denied education authority subsidies for planned trips to ski
Meanwhile, Trieste's Jewish community called on Italy yesterday to stop
Mr Haider from visiting the city's former Nazi death camp which would
create "dangerous shock waves".