Social Democrats’ trip to North Korea causes a stir

The Austrian Social Democrats (SPÖ) have been harshly attacked after it emerged that five high-ranking officials met North Korean leaders.Political newspapers revealed yesterday (Tues) that a group of five SPÖ MPs and Members of the European Parliament (MEP) travelled to North Korea earlier this month. The Social Democrats stressed that the trip was a private journey, while reports have it that the dictatorial regime considered it a state visit.The Austrian politicians said they met with party officials and were also taken on a tour of factories.The Lower Austrian department of the conservative People’s Party claimed today that the SPÖ was “out of control”, while federal ÖVP general secretary Fritz Kaltenegger said: “The SPÖ must clearly disassociate itself from this link (to the North Korean regime).”ÖVP MP Wilhelm Molterer attacked Peter Wittmann for travelling to the Asian country considering his position as constitution issues spokesman of the SPÖ.The former vice chancellor said: “Peter Wittmann should keep his hands off North Korea, like all other western politicians. This regime is undemocratic, repressive and dictatorial.”Harald Vilimsky, general secretary of the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ), claimed the journey confirmed that the SPÖ “has a tendency towards Communist dictatorships”.He warned the SPÖ members’ that their decision to spend five days there could substantially harm Austria’s reputation.”This shows once more that the SPÖ is blind to reality,” he added.ÖVP Foreign and European Relations Minister Michael Spindelegger said news of the SPÖ group’s trip was “unpleasant”.He said: “Everybody is free to choose where to travel, but such a visit could create an incorrect image of our international relations.”Spindelegger stressed that the European Union (EU) was currently trying to support South Korea much more than before following the recent worsening of relations between the bordering countries.SPÖ MP Anton Heinzl vehemently defended the journey. He said today: “It’s important to focus on creating a dialogue with other (political) systems.”Heinzl claimed there would be no open borders in Eastern Europe (EE) nowadays had there been no dialogue between the United States and the Soviet Union ahead of the fall of the Iron Curtain.He said: “Austria has had diplomatic relations with North Korea since 1974 and is represented by an ambassador.”His SPÖ colleague Wittmann could, meanwhile, face fresh attack from political rivals for his description of the situation in the oppressive regime which arbitrarily tortures and kills thousands of people every year.Speaking about his impressions of the upcoming general summit of the ruling party, he said: “I was surprised how little tension there is over the overall situation.”The MP explained he had not seen any propaganda posters showing Kim Jong-un, the son and rumoured successor of current leader Kim Jong-Il.North Korea recently said there would by a party summit next Tuesday (28 September). This announcement tempted international spectators to debate whether the event will be held to officially declare the 28-year-old as new leader of the country.SPÖ MP Karin Kadenbach, however, claimed she and her party colleagues had been informed by political decision-makers that the assembly would be postponed.Kim Jong-Il, 69, is reportedly seriously ill. The North Korean regime refused to give any information on his state, but speculations have lingered on after the country failed to publish any new pictures of the dictator for months.This time span preceded a state visit to ally China on which his personal assistants collected his faeces to ensure secret service agents would not get hold of it in a bid to find out whether rumours he was severely sick were true.News that five influential SPÖ members travelled to North Korean to meet political leaders come only days after a controversial exhibit focusing on contemporary North Korean art and architecture closed after being on display for around half a year at an Austrian museum.Vienna’s Museum for Applied Art (Museum für angewandte Kunst, MAK), cooperated with the Korean Art Gallery and the Paektusan Academy of Architecture for “Blumen für Kim Il-Sung” (Flowers for Kim Il-Sung).The exhibition featured around 100 oil and ink paintings and posters, mostly showing encounters of people with Kim Jong-il and his father and predecessor Kim Il-sung.ÖVP Finance Minister Josef Pröll decided not to let the Republic of Austria assume liability for the exhibit – which normally happens as a routine act.”Blumen für Kim Il-Sung” has outraged conservative opinion-leaders in the whole world for allegedly failing to disassociate himself from the country’s cruel methods.The left-leaning press in Austria also attacked MAK director Peter Noever over his decision not to set up a bulletin holding information on the repressive political circumstances and the ignorance of human rights in North Korea.Noever claimed he would not have been given the green light by the country’s regime to show these pieces of art for the first time outside the country.