‘History lesson’ for Rosenkranz

Activists spread out tens of thousands of sheets of paper with the names of Nazi victims in Vienna yesterday (Tues) “to teach Barbara Rosenkranz a history lesson”.”A Letter To The Stars” organiser Josef Neumayr said: “We want to show what happens when intolerance shapes society.”Activists said they felt the urge to take action after Rosenkranz – the Freedom Party’s (FPÖ) candidate for presidency – outraged many Austrians with her statements regarding the country’s dark past.Asked whether she doubts the existence of gas chambers at Nazi concentration camps, the mother-of-ten said: “My knowledge and view of history is the one of a person who visited Austrian schools between 1964 and 1976.”The FPÖ Lower Austria boss referred to the controversial fact that curriculums at many Austrian schools failed to feature World War Two at that time.Rosenkranz made a U-turn by holding a press conference in which she disassociated herself from all war crimes. She did so just two days after the bestselling Kronen Zeitung newspaper appealed to her to do so in a comment by publisher Hans Dichand. The paper’s massive support of her bid for presidency has diminished recently.Incumbent president Heinz Fischer criticised Rosenkranz – whose husband publishes a far-right magazine – for her points of view and cited her mindset as one of the reasons why he refused to face her in a live TV debate ahead of the 25 April election.Fischer has between 70 and 80 per cent support in polls, while Rosenkranz is expected to garner no more than 20 per cent. Rudolf Gehring of the non-parliament Austrian Christians Party (CPÖ) is also running for the post.Several Holocaust survivors attended yesterday’s demonstration against “xenophobia and prejudices” at the city centre’s Ballhaus Square where the chancellor’s office is located.Rudolf Gelbard, who was put in one of the Nazi’s labour camps, said: “This is the other Austria. It means a lot to me.”Franz Fischer, a  former People’s Party (ÖVP) European Commissioner for Agriculture, praised the event as a “great idea” as he walked by.”We need a conscience in Austria,” he said.FPÖ general secretary Herbert Kickl meanwhile said: “The importance of commemorating the victims of the Nazi regime is beyond doubt for all parties. This demonstration obviously had to do with the presidential election.”Kickl claimed organisers would “abuse” the commemoration of Nazi victims if they tried to discredit a contemporary political person with their initiative.Thousands of Austrians joined anti-Rosenkranz groups on online social network sites like Facebook, while demonstrations held at towns and cities the candidate visited over the past few weeks overshadowed her campaign.A “sea of candles” protest march held in Vienna a few weeks ago was attended by around 3,000 people.Meanwhile Tyrolean ÖVP Governor Günther Platter branded the appeal to vote “white” or invalid a “fatal signal”.Several key ÖVP officials have over the past few months revealed they would vote invalid instead of supporting any of the three running candidates.ÖVP Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Othmar Karas is one of the few ÖVP politicians coming out in support for Fischer. Karas was rumoured to run himself, but claimed he was approached too late with the suggestion.Former ÖVP boss Erhard Busek also said he would support Fischer, while current ÖVP leader Josef Pröll refused to reveal where he would make a cross on the ballot paper if at all.Many ÖVP supporters criticised the party board over its decision not to nominate an own candidate. Erwin Pröll, Josef Pröll’s uncle and Lower Austrian ÖVP Governor, was given chances to force Fischer into a run-off ballot. He however decided not to run.”I cannot leave the people of Lower Austria alone in difficult times,” he explained last autumn – after keeping up speculations by hinting in various interviews he could imagine a candidacy.Former ÖVP European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner meanwhile said: “I will take part in the election, and I will certainly not vote invalid.”She is expected to support Fischer since it seemed rather unlikely the supporter of the European idea backs the EU critics Rosenkranz or Gehring.Ferrero-Waldner lost against Fischer in the 2004 presidential election. Fischer won 52.4 per cent in the vote, and announced his decision to run for a second term last November.If he wins it will be his final six years in office as the law makes a third presidential term impossible.Analysts predict many people will stay at home since Fischer’s victory seems certain.Discussions over whether the president should be elected by the federal parliament or some kind of commission increased during the current campaign as many fear the running of nationalist Rosenkranz might harm Austria’s image.