Chancellor Says Coalition Will Survive
Feb. 17, 1988
VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ Chancellor Franz Vranitzky said Tuesday his coalition will survive a split over President Kurt Waldheim's conduct in World War II, but the issue is isolating Austria from the rest of the world.
The Socialist chancellor, in coalition with a conservative party that supported Waldheim for the presidency, also repeated his threat to resign if the Waldheim affair is not resolved.
Waldheim said he will sue Der Spiegel, a West German magazine that printed a copy of a document purportedly linking him to deportation of civilians in the Balkans, where he was a lieutenant in the German army. The magazine has retracted the story and said the document probably was a fake.
In London, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said Britain will reopen the files on six commandos taken prisoner in 1944 on the German-occupied Greek island of Alimnia.
''We have taken the allegations concerning Dr. Waldheim very seriously, particularly those concerning British servicemen,'' she told the House of Commons in a written reply to a question.
An international commission of historians that investigated Waldheim's past said in its report that it could not prove a connection between him and the commandos, but found the initial ''W'' on transcripts of interviews with the six men. The report suggested that Waldheim knew the Gestapo shot captured commandos.
After meeting with Deputy Chancellor Alois Mock, head of the conservative People's Party, Vranitzky told reporters: ''We have clearly affirmed the intention to have this government continue.''
His statement seemed designed to quell speculation that divisions over Waldheim might dissolve the coalition.
The chancellor runs the government and the presidency is largely ceremonial. The Socialists are the senior partner in the coalition with the People's Party, which backed the former U.N. secretary-general for president in 1986.
Vranitzky criticized Waldheim for what he called failure to take a clear stand on key points of the report by the commission of historians. The 202- page document said Waldheim was ''in close proximity'' to Nazi atrocities, must have known about them and did nothing to stop them.
In a televised speech Monday, the president said he would not resign and asked Austrians to unite behind him.
Mock, one of Waldheim's staunchest backers, said Tuesday the president's speech ''offered dialogue and said clearly he is conscious of his integral role.''
But Vranitzky repeated his threat to resign, saying he can only lead ''in good conscience ... if the working conditions are such to allow me to assume these obligations in a responsible way.''
Vranitzky also voiced concern about the impact of the affair on Austria's tourism, economy and its relations with other Western countries.
Major U.S. travel operators are flying Americans to Budapest rather than Vienna, he said, adding: ''Our business people cannot be easy about that.''
Referring to Austrian efforts to establish closer trade links with the European Community, Vranitzky noted, ''We can't be indifferent to the fact that in the whole year 1987 only two government leaders visited us.''
The Soviet and Liechtenstein premiers were in Austria last year.
''What I really think is necessary for everybody in this country - and therefore also for the president - is to try to emerge from this isolation, out of this self-chosen inner emigration,'' Vranitzky said.
Waldheim spokesman Gerold Christian said it was unclear exactly on what charges Waldheim planned to sue Der Spiegel. Under Austrian law, the president must instruct state prosecutors to begin any legal proceedings on his behalf.
Der Spiegel published in its Feb. 1 edition a copy of a telegram allegedly linking Waldheim to the deportation of more than 4,000 civilians from the Kozara region in Yugoslavia in 1942.
A copy of the document was sold to Der Spiegel by a Yugoslav journalist. The original could not be found. Der Spiegel in its current issue apologized for publishing what was ''most probably a fake.''
In May, Waldheim instructed state prosecutors to sue World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman for asserting that Waldheim was ''part and parcel of the Nazi killing machine.''
Late last year, Waldheim ordered prosecutors to sue the Austrian magazine Wiener, which published a supplement on the Waldheim affair.
A poll conducted for the conservative Vienna daily Die Presse reflected rising public pressure for Waldheim to resign. The telephone poll was based on interviews with 440 Austrians.
Forty-six percent of those who responded were against resignation and 37 were in favor. Two weeks ago, a similar poll said 72 percent of those surveyed opposed Waldheim's resignation.
Forty-five percent of those polled said they wouldn't vote for Waldheim if an election were held on Sunday, while 34 percent said they would.