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Sunday, 7 March 2010


A woman who has criticized anti-Nazi law and is married to an extreme rightist is running for president in Austria, and critics contend her candidacy could tarnish the reputation of a country still marred by its connection to the Holocaust. Barbara Rosenkranz, 51, is not expected to win the April 25 election, despite her endorsement from the owner of Austria's most widely read newspaper, the Kronen Zeitung. But she is likely to lead a campaign against popular President Heinz Fischer laced with the anti-foreigner and anti-European Union rhetoric her far-right Freedom Party generates. She is most widely known for her belief that Austria's law banning the glorification of the Nazis is a hindrance to freedom of expression and violates the country's constitution. In the same vein, she also has defended doubts over Nazi gas chambers. Her husband, Horst Jakob Rosenkranz, was part of a far-right political party that was banned for being too radical. For Austria's Jewish community, Rosenkranz's nomination is a disgrace and "makes a mockery of the 65,000 Austrian Jews who perished in the Shoah," the Hebrew term for the Holocaust. Other political parties also have criticized Rosenkranz's candidacy and expressed concern about the message it is sending abroad. Austria's image as a country was marred by its association with Adolf Hitler. About 130,000 Jewish Austrians fled the country in 1938-39, and it was annexed by Nazi Germany from 1938 until the end of World War II. It wasn't until 1991 that Franz Vranitzky became the first Austrian chancellor to declare in parliament that Austrians were not only victims but also perpetrators of the Holocaust. Austria's president holds a largely ceremonial post and does not have much, if any, political say. Still, the job comes with a large portion of prestige and involves frequent international travel and representation.

"She is definitely not suited for the highest post in the republic," President Fischer's Social Democrats said in a statement. "Whoever trivializes as freedom of expression the denial that there were gas chambers in the Third Reich is certainly unfit as candidate for the presidency," echoed the opposition Greens. The debate sparked by Rosenkranz is, to some extent, a reminder of late President Kurt Waldheim, who served as U.N. chief from 1972 to 1981, and was barred for two decades from entering the U.S. after it became known he had belonged to a German army unit that committed atrocities in World War II. It also brings to mind the late Joerg Haider, former member of the Freedom Party, who praised aspects of Hitler's labor policies and made statements that sounded anti-Semitic. When the Freedom Party won 27 percent of the vote in 1999 elections and joined Austria's coalition government early in 2000, the EU slapped the country with months of diplomatic sanctions. Haider died in a car crash in 2008. On Wednesday, just hours after being officially nominated, Rosenkranz reiterated her controversial stance about anti-Nazi legislation in well-couched wording, stressing in an interview with Austrian radio that her party's name contains the word "freedom." "If one is for freedom of opinion and freedom of expression, then there is no other way but to allow absurd, bizarre, reprehensible opinions," she said. Experts say Rosenkranz is unlikely to get more than 20 percent of the ballots cast next month. "She's a polarizing figure," said Christoph Hofinger, managing partner and scientific director of the Vienna-based Institute for Social Research and Analysis. But, speaking of the newspaper owner who has endorsed her, he also said: "Of course, the Kronen Zeitung has an impact and if they heavily back her it will help her."

Associated Press