09 March 2010
The Catholic archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, and Austrian Jewish leaders, among others, have strongly criticized the candidacy of far-right politician Barbara Rosenkranz for the presidency of the Republic of Austria. “Someone who questions the ‘National Socialism prohibition law’ and fails to make clear statements regarding the Holocaust is not an option for me personally,” Schönborn said.
Rosenkranz, a politician of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) once led by the late Jörg Haider, is currently the only declared candidate to challenge the incumbent Social Democratic president Heinz Fischer. The mother of ten is often accused of being a ‘closet Nazi’.
On Monday, Rosenkranz was forced to publicly condemn the crimes committed by the Nazis. "Democracy, freedom and human dignity have always been the foundations of my views and my political activities. This is why I condemn the crimes of the era of the National Socialistic regime. I distinctively dissociate myself from Nazi ideology," she said in a statement, according to the newspaper ‘Austrian Times’. Rosenkranz’ husband Horst Jakob was once the leader of an extreme-right party that was later banned under a law that threatens anyone who seeks to set up a Nazi organization, propagates Nazi ideology or denies Nazi crimes with prison sentences of up to 20 years.
Last week, Rosenkranz called for the dismantling of these laws because they ran counter to freedom of expression. Asked on national radio whether she believed the Nazis murdered millions of Jews in concentration camp gas chambers, she answered evasively, adding that freedom of expression also meant allowing "absurd, bizarre opinions".
Ariel Muzicant, the head of the Austrian Jewish Community, attacked Rosenkranz for failing to apologize for "permanent far-right statements by her husband" and said the nomination of someone with political views like the one Rosenkranz had would spark protests in every other country in western Europe. He added that her decision to run for president was deriding the memory of the 65,000 Austrian Jews who died in the Holocaust.
Although experts say that Rosenkranz is unlikely to get more than 20 percent of the ballots cast in next month’s presidential elections, many Austrians believe that her candidacy is harming the country’s image abroad. Over two decades ago, Austria came under intense international pressure after the war-time past of its then president, Kurt Waldheim, was exposed by the World Jewish Congress and others.
Rosenkranz has won the backing of ‘Kronen-Zeitung’, Austria’s best-selling newspaper, whose publisher Hans Dichand in an editorial praised the FPÖ candidate as a "courageous mother", adding she "would make a good president".
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