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Sunday, 28 March 2010

Closet-Nazi´ in running for Austrian president

A far-right candidate for Austria´s presidential election has brought the country´s dark past to the surface once more.

A far-right candidate for Austria's presidential election has brought the country's dark past to the surface once more, after denouncing a law banning Nazi groups and Holocaust denial.

Barbara Rosenkranz, 51, a regional party leader for the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) who was nominated last week, looks to be the sole candidate to run against incumbent President Heinz Fischer, a Social Democrat, on April 25.

But her comments supporting the scrapping of Austria's tough prohibition law have renewed the debate about a Nazi heritage the small alpine country has never fully come to terms with.

Austrian leaders and the press already fear for the country's image abroad.

Under the 1947 Verbotsgesetz law, anyone who seeks to set up a Nazi organisation, propagates Nazi ideology or denies Nazi crimes can be jailed for up to 20 years.
But Rosenkranz, a mother of 10 and the wife of an outspoken figure in Austria's far-right scene, insists the law constitutes "an unnecessary restriction" and that, on the contrary, people should be allowed freedom of opinion.

In 2003, the European Court of Human Rights already allowed a journalist's description of her as a "closet-Nazi", noting that her attitude towards Nazism was ambiguous.

Such comments from a woman running for the country's highest office prompted scorching criticism from politicians of all colours, civil groups and the Catholic Church.

Rosenkranz's own supporters also did what they could to limit the damage.
"Somebody like this is not eligible for election," said Vienna's Archbishop Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, while the Jewish community described her as "an embarrassment for Austria."

"Rosenkranz challenges the Republic's anti-fascist foundation, that is unacceptable," added Social Democrat Defence Minister Norbert Darabos.
Meanwhile, Hans Dichand, publisher of the influential tabloid Kronen Zeitung, reversed his earlier position and urged Rosenkranz to "distance herself from all national-socialist ideas", just days after he had called on voters to support her.
The leader of the FPOe, Heinz-Christian Strache reacted Friday in a last-minute attempt at damage control.

"Nobody in our party is talking about scrapping the prohibition law", hed said.

"Nobody in the FPOe approves of anything relating to Nazism", he added. Rosenkranz's comments he said, "could have maybe been worded better."

While the Austrian president has a mostly ceremonial role and Fischer is widely expected to win a second term, Rosenkranz's candidacy has been seen as a test for the FPOe's party programme.

Strongly anti-EU and anti-immigrant, Rosenkranz also advocates strict family values and traditional gender roles.
This image took a beating when her local priest revealed she had left the Church years ago and that none of her 10 children -- who carry old German names like Mechthild, Hildrun, Arne or Sonnhild -- had been baptised.
She has also come under fire over her husband's connections with top figures in the Austrian and German far-right scene.
Horst Jakob Rosenkranz, who was once a member of the now banned neo-Nazi NPD party, still publishes a far-right newspaper called Fakten (Facts).

Barbara Rosenkranz has never distanced herself from his activities, but in an interview with the daily Die Presse published Sunday, she insisted: "I have never shown I was close to Nazism.

"Reports that I favour scrapping the prohibition law are false and misleading."

She nevertheless maintained: "Those parts (of the law) that deal with expressed opinions are in conflict with the basic right of freedom of opinion."
Commentators already fear the "horror scenario" of a far-right presidential win -- especially if turnout remains low as expected -- while anti-Semitic comments have already appeared in her support in online forums.

"Is that a foretaste of the elections campaign?" asked the Austrian weekly News.