Ziegler expelled over Gaddafi connection claims

The provincial government of Salzburg has uninvited Jean Ziegler from speaking at the opening of a high-profile festival later this year.Social Democratic (SPÖ) Governor Gabi Burgstaller announced yesterday (Thurs) that she decided to withdraw the invitation. Ziegler – a well-known globalisation critic, sociologist and author – was initially asked to hold a speech at an event kicking off this year’s Salzburg Festival (Salzburger Festspiele).Burgstaller explained the decision was based on claims that Ziegler is close to Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi. The Swiss – who wrote acclaimed books such as “La haine de l’Occident” (Hate For the West) – reportedly received a human rights award from the regime of the infamous dictator. Ziegler has always denied being aligned to Gaddafi and his allies in any way. He admitted being surprised about the province of Salzburg’s decision to take back the invitation. Ziegler called Gaddafi a “psychopath” in an interview with an Austrian radio station yesterday.Burgstaller – who has been tipped to succeed under-fire Werner Faymann as federal SPÖ chairman and chancellor – argued that Ziegler would also benefit from the decision to keep him from speaking at the Salzburg Festival opening as the content of his speech would not have been the centre of attention. The Social Democrat claimed his attendance would have been overshadowed by the accusations brought forward some years ago considering the recent occurrences in the North African country.Salzburg Festival head organiser Helga Rabl-Stadler pointed out that it was the provincial government who initially asked Ziegler give a speech at the opening ceremony of this year’s festival which features performances of classical music, theatre and opera.Rabl-Stadler, who is close to the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP), added that she and her team preferred deciding on their own who speaks at the Salzburg Festival which traditionally takes place in July and August. The businesswoman also denied claims that Ziegler was uninvited after pressure from companies which sponsor the event. “None of the sponsors knew of a potential invitation of Mister Ziegler. Neither I nor Miss Burgstaller spoke to anybody about it,” she announced today.Now the Salzburg Greens revealed plans to ask Ziegler to speak at another venue during the festival. Party official Cyriak Schwaighofer branded Burgstaller’s decision as “disgraceful”. The left-winger accused the governor of “having fallen to her knees” in front of internationally operating businesses. The opposition politician added his party has already started talks with strategic partners and sponsors to ensure that the speech of Ziegler – who was honoured with the Austrian Bruno Kreisky Award in 2000 – will receive the same amount of attention had he spoken at the official opening of the Salzburg Festival.Ziegler – who formally worked as the United Nations’ (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food – spoke in front of hundreds of students at Vienna University in November 2009. The 77-year-old told the crowd that he backed their protests. Hundreds of thousands of young people took to the streets in several cities across Europe at that time to call for reforms and more funding for the higher education sector.